For most Ugandans, Busia is a market for agricultural produce and manufactured goods. During the harvest season, up to 300 trucks packed with grain move in and out of Busia town every day that comes from as far away as Mubende, Luwero, Masindi to sell to ready buyers mostly from Kenya. On the other hand, traders from Kampala and other towns, throng the town to buy merchandise from traders from across the border in Kenya.
But for others, Busia is a smugglers hub. A good number of people flock to the busy town to exploit the loopholes by tax collectors to bring into the country some merchandise from across the Kenyan border.
At any time of the day, the main road leading to the customs check point, is a beehive of activities as cyclists, boda boda riders jostle for space with truck drivers as well as physically handicapped persons who use their wheelchairs to transport smuggled goods from Kenya to Uganda.
Observations by this reporter and testimonies from local boda boda riders as well as the PWDs themselves, suggest that there is an unwritten covenant between revenue protection officers to allow PWDs to smuggle goods. In fact, according to Sunday Richard, one the PWDs, in February, they met with URA officers who allowed them to cross with just one item.
As a result, hundreds of PWDs including the elderly, women are all engaged in the trade.
As Albert Okuku, a boda boda rider at Busia narrated, Revenue Authorities as well as the town’s law enforcement officers have informally allowed PWDs to smuggle goods as a source of survival.
“As you can imagine, there is almost no other job people with disabilities can do. That is why they are sometimes permitted to smuggle,” said Okuku.
Julius Mulema, one of the PWDs says that revenue officers permit disabled persons simply because they empathize with them.
“The revenue officers permit us to bring in just two cartons of wheat floor or one 50kg bag of rice so that we can get a source of survival,” adds Mulema.
For Said Kanyike, smuggling is a source of livelihood and he cannot imagine life without it.
However considering the take home of most of those in this illegal business, this is merely disguised unemployment considering that most of them take home less than 10,000 after a long and hard day’s work.